When all the green slides out of the leaves, and the fiery yellows light up the skies overhead on my walk to work, there’s always the temptation for that Seasonal Affective kick-in-the-ass to creep in also. The chill in the air of October gets my attention and makes me introspect in a way that I do not do in the lazy indulgence of summer.
Last year, a good friend of mine commented that my autumn mix was almost too sad to listen to, and yeah – there is something about this season that has, in the past, made me quite somber. Last year’s theme coalesced completely on its own from songs I was listening to, and turned out to be about: bones, rivers, and too much space in empty beds. There was a lot of cello, which seems fitting in these days, but sad nonetheless.
But then –it turns out– you can also think about it in the way that I’m doing this season.
Autumn is also a time when all the externals dry up and fall away so that you can see the shape of the branches underneath, clearly defining us against those ice blue skies. The rich summer scaffolding is gone, and the graceful arc underneath can be seen and examined. I’m feeling like my bare branches right now are enjoying the freedom.
These are songs for that.
HARD TIMES (COME AGAIN NO MORE): THE FUEL/FRIENDS AUTUMN 2012 MIX
Hard Times – eastmountainsouth
I can’t tell if this song is a marker in the sand of celebration, a fervent wish made under our breaths, or (most likely) both. Eastmountainsouth is defunct now, with each of the pair making their own music, but I saw them live in San Francisco in 2005 and their powerfully-wending voices were part of the first surge of re-realizing that I needed music in my life that made me feel something. The way they sing this song from 1854 also makes me realize that we’ve collectively been wishing the hard times away for a long while now.
So It Goes – Portage
When I was in Minneapolis last weekend, I arrived at a random house show and descended to the basement to watch these guys play to a packed crowd, and was mightily impressed. I think Trent’s voice reminds me some of Local Natives, in that youthful urgency, and even joy. This is the lead-off track of their 2011 album The Unsalted Sea, and they have a new one coming next month.
Yer Fall – Hey Rosetta!
I wrote all about these guys on my birthday, and what they give and what they demand with their music. This song is a seasonal elegy to top all seasonal elegies, a song of love that has died and is buried in the autumn leaves, better hid.
I Feel Better – Frightened Rabbit
Sometimes even when you’re feeling better, and better, you feel worse and then better. This is a personal kickass anthem, an empowering gem off a record that I love but where all the other songs are wallowers. This track is not a wallower, this is a fist to the air and a vow that this is the last one I’ll do.
Letter in Icelandic from the Ninette San – John K. Samson
I love The Weakerthans a great deal, and the new solo record from their frontman is as quirky and poignant and terrific as I would have hoped. Our protagonist here is an Icelandic immigrant sent to a Manitoba sanatorium for tuberculosis, and these are his letters home. Over the sweetly sad, meandering violin, he writes to a loved one of the burns on his back from the xrays, that make him never want to show anyone anything ever again.
Lay Low (live at Pickathon) – Shovels & Rope
Gahhh. This song wrecks me from the opening lines: “Well I probably should be / swept out to sea / where I can’t hurt no one, and no one can hurt me.” How can such sonic goodness be so grippingly sad? This is a song of waiting, and waiting.
Miss Sunflower – Ryan Adams
The collection of Ryan’s songs dubbed The Suicide Handbook is pretty much what the title implies, a collection of acoustic songs that will effortlessly gut you. This one is such a perfect song. I don’t know how Ryan does it; I wasn’t missing anyone and then I listen to this and I’m suddenly wondering who I miss making smile. Damn you, Adams.
Princess On The Porch – Josh Rouse
A b-side from Josh Rouse that is one of my hands-down favorites of anything he’s ever recorded. That’s when I realized how you are, and how we’ll never be / ah, ’cause baby, it’s not you I was searching for — it’s only me.
Hollywood, Forever – Tyler Lyle
I’ll be happy with Tyler in every season y’all. Everything he records, I ingest as if it has life-giving elixir properties (and often it does). This is a demo he just strung together in his spare time because he does that. “Would it frighten or free us to think the world doesn’t need us – at all?” A song for a the most temporal-feeling of all seasons.
I Am Not Waiting Anymore – Field Report
A smoky song, off what is easily one of my favorite records this year, there’s one line here that just completely blasts down my anthropologist defenses, and I can’t explain why, other than to say I get it: “I’ve been a keen-eyed observer of the movements of concentric parts / of the bodies, and bones, and breasts, and unmapped chambers of hearts.” I am not waiting anymore.
Borrowed Tune – Neil Young
This one comes right after the Field Report song because they just covered it in the chapel for me, and I can’t extricate the melody from my head ever since (which is actually the melody from a Rolling Stones song, but nevermind). “I’m climbing this ladder, my head in the clouds, I hope that it matters…” Also – that piercing harmonica blending with the piano? This mix is laced with harmonica because it is the season for such things.
On Not Smoking Anymore – Isaac Pierce
I heard Isaac sing a version of this on a beach on Orcas Island, then I woke up on my birthday a week later in a tent at the Lyons Folks Fest, singing it under my breath. I went and waded in the cold river and sang it to myself as a reminder and an anthem for this year that there is indeed nothing missing. Sing joy.
Yulia (Wolf Parade) – Dan Griffin
Wolf Parade’s angular song of a Russian cosmonaut drifting lost in space is reinvented by Ontario musician Dan Griffin as something aching and simple — like a Springsteen Nebraska outtake. The effect of the lines about waking from a fever dream and floating in a salty sea takes on a whole new tinge.
October’s Road – Balto
From their autumnal album of the same name, Portland’s Balto is a band that a few readers wrote to me independently about, encouraging me to listen. There’s a loose freedom and joy in this song that builds to remind us that life ain’t that bad.
That Sea, The Gambler – Gregory Alan Isakov
I am pretty sure that if I ever wind up lost in the fog at sea, there will be no musician I would rather singing to me than Colorado treasure Isakov. There is something wooly and warm (but unsettling) in his voice that always feels right this time of year. The ocean is holding all the keys.
You Are The Everything (R.E.M.) – Redbird
A flawless R.E.M. song becomes something even warmer and stronger with the campfirey, flannel-voiced strength of Jeffrey Foucault. I have listened to this cover hundreds of times.
Flames and Ashes – Matt Ruddy
Ruddy is a Portland musician who I met one January night over many old-fashioneds in an Albina district neighborhood bar. He has a new EP out with this beautiful interlude that makes me think of leaves falling, and pushes back some space for me to take a deep breath. See previous notation about the harmonica, both on that Neil Young song and here; harmonicas remind me of train whistles and this season makes me want to take trips to the horizon and then keep going.
Rest (live on Daytrotter) – Michael Kiwanuka
This is the closest we as adults may get to lullabies and reassurances. And you know, I will totally take it.
Hard Times – Gillian Welch
Come on my sweet old girl
I’d bet the whole damn world
that we’re gonna make it yet
to the end of the road
[original image snapped by my friend Shawnté, and saved by me for months for this occasion; cover design by the always-terrific Ryan Hollingsworth, whose own fall mix is totally worth checking out]